All Cal­i­for­ni­ans should have safe, clean wa­ter, but how does that hap­pen?

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY DAN SCHNUR Spe­cial to The Sacra­mento Bee Note to read­ers: Each week through Novem­ber 2019, a se­lec­tion of our 101 Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers an­swers a ques­tion that is crit­i­cal to Cal­i­for­nia’s fu­ture. Top­ics in­clude ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, en­vi­ron­ment, hou

When there are 1 mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans with­out ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter, do­ing the right thing shouldn’t be com­pli­cated.

“Few Cal­i­for­nia ur­ban­ites grasp the in­tol­er­a­ble, third­world con­di­tions that nearly a mil­lion of their fel­low Cal­i­for­ni­ans live in when it comes to ac­cess­ing safe drink­ing wa­ter,” said Michael Man­tell, pres­i­dent of the Re­sources Legacy Fund. “That res­i­dents of a state with the fifth largest econ­omy on the planet lack that ac­cess is noth­ing short of scan­dalous.”

Lea Ann Trat­ten, a part­ner at Trat­tenPrice Con­sult­ing, de­scribed the Cal­i­for­ni­ans who suf­fer most with­out ac­cess to clean wa­ter and re­it­er­ated the ur­gency for ac­tion.

“The heav­i­est bur­den of the toxic taps cri­sis has fallen on our most marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties, com­mu­ni­ties of color and peo­ple with low-in­comes,” Trat­ten said.

“Cal­i­for­ni­ans at risk from can­cer, heart dis­ease, in­fer­til­ity and other health con­di­tions from their drink­ing wa­ter don’t have more time to wait for the per­fect po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.”

When Gov. Gavin New­som called for con­struct­ing and main­tain­ing de­liv­ery sys­tems to get wa­ter to at-risk com­mu­ni­ties in his State of the State ad­dress, he re­ceived wide­spread sup­port. But the fight over fund­ing for the project got di­vi­sive – and fast.

“The right way to fund wa­ter cleanup would be to re­quire the pol­luters to pay. But get­ting that kind of tax would have re­quired a two-thirds leg­isla­tive vote and there hasn’t been the po­lit­i­cal will in the leg­is­la­ture to do that,” said Sierra Club Cal­i­for­nia Direc­tor Kathryn Phillips, al­lud­ing to the lack of sup­port for New­som’s orig­i­nal pro­posal to pay for the clean wa­ter plan

with a tax on com­mer­cial, res­i­den­tial and agri­cul­tural users.

Phillips was one of sev­eral Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers who op­posed New­som’s re­vised pro­posal to pay for the clean wa­ter plan with more than $100 mil­lion from the state’s green­house gas re­duc­tion cred­its this year (and ad­di­tional money for the next decade) rather than the gen­eral fund.

“Avoid­ing a new wa­ter tax is news we can all cel­e­brate. But I’m not sure tap­ping into the cap-and­trade pot was the right move,” said Assem­bly­man James Gal­lagher (R-Yuba City).

“I am con­cerned that some­day soon cap-and­trade funds won’t be read­ily avail­able to ad­dress and fund pro­grams that ac­tu­ally re­duce car­bon emissions like re­duc­ing fuel in our forests and help­ing farm­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers up­grade/retro­fit equip­ment.”

Cather­ine Re­heis-Boyd, pres­i­dent of the West­ern States Pe­tro­leum As­so­ci­a­tion, also warned the fund­ing shift could lead to greater re­di­rect­ion of green­house gas re­duc­tion money in the fu­ture.

“As wor­thy as clean wa­ter ini­tia­tives are, we fear di­vert­ing (green­house gas) funds for them may open the door to fund­ing other non-cli­mate projects, to the detri­ment of the over­all cap-and-trade pro­gram,” Re­heis-Boyd said.

“It’s crit­i­cal that law­mak­ers find a more ap­pro­pri­ate source of funds to en­sure clean wa­ter for all Cal­i­for­ni­ans.”

For­mer state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los An­ge­les) op­posed the use of money ear­marked for cli­mate change pro­grams in the fu­ture, but ac­knowl­edged the po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties be­hind this year’s de­ci­sion.

“While I be­lieve our cap-and-trade dol­lars should be solely com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing green­house gases – this is a pub­lic health emer­gency, not the time to bicker over fund­ing mech­a­nisms,” de Leon said.

“Go­ing for­ward, the leg­is­la­ture should dou­ble down on pay­ing for clean wa­ter through the state’s gen­eral or rainy day fund.”

Rob Stutz­man, for­mer se­nior ad­viser to Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, pre­dicted po­lit­i­cal fall­out from redi­rect­ing the green­house gas fund­ing.

“To be clear, they have bro­ken faith with Cal­i­for­ni­ans. We were all told the rev­enue from cap and trade… would be used for re­lated cli­mate change and air qual­ity is­sues,” Stutz­man said. “Once again they’ve proven why many vot­ers are cyn­i­cal about politi­cians.”

Others point to the link be­tween the state’s clean wa­ter and cli­mate change chal­lenges.

“Warmer tem­per­a­tures and pro­longed drought have dev­as­tated the Sierra snow­pack, which has his­tor­i­cally been the source of most of the state’s fresh drink­ing wa­ter. (This makes) it eas­ier for dan­ger­ous el­e­ments such as ar­senic to con­tam­i­nate the sup­ply,” said state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Mon­ica).

“The state must take steps to adapt to the chang­ing cli­mate, and if we do it right, these ac­tions will im­prove the re­siliency and clean­li­ness of drink­ing wa­ter sys­tems.” Brent Hastey, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cal­i­for­nia Wa­ter Agen­cies, also praised New­som’s plan, and stressed the im­por­tance of ad­di­tional fund­ing to meet op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance costs for wa­ter treat­ment.

“While a vast ma­jor­ity of Cal­i­for­ni­ans has ac­cess to safe drink­ing wa­ter, the lack of ac­cess any­where in the state is a pub­lic health is­sue that can now be ad­dressed thanks to this his­toric ac­tion,” he said.

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